Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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Making the words sing

After my last post where I waxed poetic about some of the things I’d learned about writing, I went ahead and finished the novel I’ve been working on.

If you’re into stats…

– Started on February 13, 2017
– Daily word count goal was officially 2000 (but I like to push that)
– Finished the last scene on April 8, 2017
– I wrote measurable words 32 out of those 54 days (you can check my math, I think that’s 54 days)
– Ended up with my goal of 85,000 words, give or take a few depending on what tool I used to count them
– That makes an average of 2,656 words per day
– Highest one-day word count was 4,550
– Lowest one-day word count was 920

This is what it looks like for those like me who think graphs are awesome (not including the days I didn’t write):

But NOW!
I read the book all the way through on my tablet, made my notes, and now my favorite part: turning into something smooth, seductive, sweet, sexy, and satisfying. I already know what I need to do to turn this thing into the book I envisioned (although the characters always surprise me along the way).

And I ask myself: is this the sequel, or is my Pitch Wars book the prequel? I think this one’s even better, because I had all that experience during Pitch Wars and am now aware of some of my crutches and tendencies. That makes for a cleaner first draft, although it’s nowhere near ready to be shared.

But I know what I need to do, and I can’t wait to get started. A lot of people dread revision, but I love it to pieces. It’s where I can take the words and make them shine. And flow. And sing.

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It’s not over until it’s over

Hi! I remember blogging! I remember having time to sit down and compose well-planned and thoughtful blog posts! I knew one day I’d have the time to do it again.

Today is not that day. Fooled you! I’ve been more than knee-deep in Pitch Wars revision passes, refining, fine-tuning. Eradicating crutch words, erasing bad habits, spit-shining and polishing my manuscript. Writing the supplemental material: query letter, synopsis, pitch, and as one of my mentors put it, taking a chisel to my first page so that despite the fact there’s an entire novel to follow, it’s compelling all by itself.

Not too much to ask!

During the course of Pitch Wars I’ve learned:

  • how to survive on almost no sleep
  • potato chips are really not a great substitute for real food
  • the more you use “just a cup of coffee at Starbucks” as a reward for writing, the faster you qualify for more free drinks than you want
  • I can rewrite an entire novel in a very short period of time if I have to
  • When given the secret formula for supplemental material, I can take off my “I’m no good at marketing” hat and write those too
  • why scene maps are important
  • why outlining is a great idea
  • genre-specific story arcs exist for a reason and sure, I can be a rebel, but then I won’t have the type of book I want
  • this year’s mentees are a wonderful group of people and I’m so thankful to have taken this roller coaster ride with them
  • this year’s mentors are a wonderful group of people. I lucked out having two (thanks, Mary Ann and Jaime!)
  • It’s a real kick to find that people like my characters and stories and want more

GROUP HUG!

I could go on with haphazard lists, but I have to say that this has been an outstanding experience. Yes, my house isn’t as organized as it was two months ago and sure, I ate some of (okay, a lot of) the Halloween candy out of nerves and no, the agent showcase hasn’t started yet, but no matter what happens when the Adult/NA entries go up tomorrow, I’ve already “won” Pitch Wars. Just ask the friends I’ve made, the people I’ve met, the people I’m still planning on meeting. Look at the book I’ve written. This contest makes for great common ground. Whether my co-mentees have been writing Adult manuscripts like me, or New Adult or Young Adult or Middle Grade, we all have this shared experience. It’s humbled and enlightened me. It’s rejuvenated my love of writing. It’s taught me so much… you get the idea.

There will be a playlist post soon. In the meantime, I’ll be quiet.


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My Very Pitch Wars Month

So… it’s been a month now, give or take, since the Pitch Wars results were announced and I started kicking into gear. I’m going to wait until it’s over to give you my overview of the whole experience, but I thought a check-in was in order.

It’s important to say right up front I’m convinced I have one helluva mentoring team. We seem to have similar perspectives on what we want for my story (hugely important) and similar taste in so many things unrelated to the story. Pitch Wars is stressful enough, so I feel extremely fortunate to have mentors who are a good fit with my temperament and personality. They’re making it easy, and they’re making it fun. That stated…

…oh man, what a lot of work this contest is! I’m learning to love parts of the book-writing process I never loved (and in some cases, never heard of) before. For someone who’s always been a confirmed pantser, I can now see the value of putting in time planning and organizing. Because I only had a month to rework my novel, incorporating feedback from my mentors and moving it into its shiny newly-outlined direction. (Oh, I also beefed it up by 20,000 words or so.) I don’t know if I’ll be able to face NaNoWriMo this year without an outline in hand!

One of my first thoughts after we got started was that despite my initial attitude last year when my manuscript wasn’t chosen, I’m glad I didn’t make it in then. I wouldn’t have been ready, either as a writer or as a recipient of critique and suggestion. I’ve never been one to write THE END and ship a book off for querying immediately. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that all the advice about letting a manuscript sit for a while before querying was right. (Also, I’m terribly shy about my writing and have a hard time sending it out… or at least, I used to.) I’ve never been in a rush to get something out the door.

That’s proved incredibly useful during this whole process. Last year I wouldn’t have had the patience to make the necessary changes. I might have fought them tooth and nail. Instead, I sat on the manuscript for most of a year, rewrote it with all the drastic changes I could muster, and guess what? I’ve rewritten it again with even more drastic changes.

Now I wait for feedback. Will it be good? Will it be horrible? Will I have to rewrite it again? I don’t know, but I’ll find out. For me, one of the joys of Pitch Wars is that it’s unpredictably predictable. I have to be on my toes. I have to be ready and willing to write, rewrite, finesse. I also have to cast off the shackles of claiming I detest the “other” pieces of writing (pitch, synopsis, query) and delve into those with an open mind and open heart.

I might have been quiet here this past month, but it’s because I’ve been busy. I’m ready for PW Part II. Whatever happens in the end will happen, but I can already say I’ve learned more about being a writer since August 25 than I had the past few years trying to work out this whole novelist thing on my own. And another unexpected bonus? I know how to use gif files with reckless abandon now. See?

starbuck-grinning


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Also, my hair is a mess

First, a personal aside: growing out one’s hair is always fraught with peril. I keep thinking why not just cut it super short again? Then I won’t have to worry. But I don’t.

I figured I’d update the progress on my beloved manuscript. I’ve been cruising along since May 19, when I went out, guns blazing, determined to write at least 2000 words a day* until I got to 60,000 words. That would bring me to a finish on 6/17. Not bad for a month’s work!

Today my word count is 52,671. I’d like to pretend I’ll finish ahead of schedule, but I’m a little off the mark in terms of where I should be with my (now a little fluid) outline. I confess, 60k seems a bit skimpy for a complete manuscript and I knew I’d have to give myself leeway. It’s easier to edit out a scene than to come up short and have to try to fight for words in the revision stage, so I’m okay with this.

The biggest news is that I’m having so much fun working on this story. I’ve mentioned this is my 4th rewrite and they’ve all been good. At this point it’s almost like writing fanfiction about my own work, which is illegal amounts of fun.

So here’s the bottom line: surprisingly, I’m not as afraid of revision as I used to think. This is me, cheering myself on with my little Go Writer flag.

*In case you can’t tell, I am hugely motivated by word count goals.


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It’s so easy to get distracted!

When I look at my twitter feed right now, I see:

#p2p16
#PitchMadness
#sonofapitch

Like any good writer who uses twitter, I’ve considered all these contests. They’re all great, all different, all run by the loveliest of lovely people, all gone about with wonderful sentiment. I’ve participated in some of them before, but…

…not this time around.

See, I’ve learned a few things from twitter pitch contests. These are strictly my own opinion, so take them with a grain of salt if you’re so inclined.

  • I see a lot of the same people entering the same works in these contests.

    To my mind, this is both good and bad. It’s good because people aren’t giving up! I assume they’ve been working on their manuscripts, taking the feedback received from earlier entries, and refining. It’s bad because as these manuscripts get accepted into all the contests over and over, there’s less room for the ones who haven’t been through the wringer before.

  • I am not good at distilling the essence of my story down into 140 characters (minus character space for the contest name and genre hashtags).

    I am, however, filled with admiration for people who can do it well. I’m actually fairly adept at doing this for other people, but hell if I can do it effectively for my own work.

  • In my heart of heart I believe there’s something to be said for not saturating the decision-making market with one of my books over and over.

    I don’t have any problem doing things the old-fashioned way: querying, using all the connections I have, pulling any and all strings, and making sure my letter and synopsis are water-tight.

I’m happy for everyone entering these contests. Blessed be, best of luck, go conquer, live long and prosper. I’m trying to stay on top of what my twitter friends are doing, but I’m also trying hard to finish my editing and rewriting, tighten up my query, finish getting my beta feedback, and moving forward independently.

Who knows? I might make the exact opposite decision next time around. Good luck! As always, if there’s anything I can do for any of you, just ask.

And before I go: what are you working on, and how do you feel about pitch contests? Leave a comment and let me know so I can cheer you on, no matter which path you’re taking.

 


You can find me on twitter at @gwynnejackson and occasionally under the hashtags #amwriting and #amediting.


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“I’m a writer.”

I spend a lot of time thinking about my answer when someone asks me what I do.

“I’m a writer.”

Does that hold true when I’m not writing? I mean… since my dad died in July I’ve been at such a creative low. I hate to blame it on emotional impact from Dad’s passing. Maybe I’ve just been lazy. Maybe I’ve been lacking in inspiration. Sure, I forced my way through NaNoWriMo just to say I did it, but I pretty much hated what I wrote and for the first time never promised to revise a NaNo novel.

I’m not afraid of hard work. I do it all the time. Excuse me while I delve off into the personal here but calling oneself a writer sooner or later involves baring who and what you are to the world. When I think of what keeps me busiest during the day inevitably I fall back on being the primary social contact for an often lovely (but sometimes not) 96-year-old, who I try to visit at least five times a week. Zing, there goes my day. I also try to stay moderately heart-healthy by getting cardio exercise every other day and by cooking vegetarian food, which is a labor of love but also a time-consuming one. (Q: how many ways can you prepare vegetables? A: so many.) I have other artistic pursuits besides writing: drawing, photography, beadwork, needlework. They are all solitary pursuits that can’t be done simultaneously.

I need a clone.

As far as writing goes, it hasn’t been something I’ve been able to simply squeeze into the nooks and crannies of my life. I do it best when I set aside dedicated time to do it. It also works best for me when I do it first thing during the day. Guess what else works best for me when I do it first thing during the day? Exercise. If only I could do both at the same time, but I can’t. I can read when I ride the stationary bike, so I make a point of doing that.

Today I set aside everything else for working on my book. I didn’t know that would be today’s plan, but it has been. I woke up, got my computer, and sat down to work on the thorny action scene I’ve been avoiding. The avoidance wasn’t because I don’t know how to write action scenes–this book is filled with them. It had just become, in my mind, that one more thing that needed doing and I started resenting it.

It really wasn’t that bad. I sat in my favorite most productive writing spot in the sun surrounded by cats and simply went for it.

Now I can pat myself on the back because I got it done, and fixed up the rest of the manuscript to reflect the changes I’d made. For the first time in almost a year I’m starting to get the motivation to query again. I’ve got a letter and a good synopsis, but I need a few brand-new readers first because now I’m sworn to querying only when I believe this book is really, truly ready.


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When is that novel ready to query?

I keep thinking my stories are ready to query.

The problem is that they’re not. One might be… if I would just write a decent query letter and synopsis for it. The problem with literary fiction featuring unreliable narrators is that their stories are tough to encapsulate.

Another book is almost ready. That’s the one I’m currently editing for the (I’ve-lost-track-of-how-many-times) last time before querying, hopefully. I’ve submitted query letters on this before without getting any nibbles. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the query letter I have, particularly. It’s that I haven’t queried widely enough, and I confess that I am a chicken. I like to talk about having a flameproof suit, but I don’t like rejection any more than the next person.

A third book is one I thought was ready last year, but it was too close to its NaNoWriMo inception and I was so in love with the world and characters and setting that instead of tightening it up during the edit process, I added another 45k words to it. That made it way too big for its perceived genre and no one was interested. It’s next on my list of novels sitting around on my hard drive that need editing, right after I finish this one.

As a former editor, I’m a perfectionist. I don’t like to see anything step out the door with typos or grammatical errors, especially of the consistent variety. That has a tendency to work against me, though. Nothing is or will ever be perfect. I will undoubtedly find things on subsequent reading passes that I wish I’d done differently. At some point I’m going to have to actually put on that fireproof suit and send query letters out the door. My half-assed goal is to do that within the next few months.

I’ll go ahead and answer my own question: that novel is ready to be queried when I’ve exhausted all my other excuses, bitten my nails down to the quick, read and re-read until I can’t see the words any more, and my critique partners give me the thumbs-up sign. Then I’ll get to Phase Two: deciding who to query and in what order. That will be its own can of worms, but at least I’m expecting some drama there!